As someone who was raised by a single mother, Mother’s Day has an extra special significance to me. Not only because we celebrated it twice in my home. Dominican’s Mother’s Day is on the last Sunday of the month. To me Mother’s Day signifies something bigger — the daily struggles, endurance, determination and influence of a woman who came to this country for a better life. My mother promised to make certain my brother and I had a better life than the one she had growing up during the dictatorship of Rafael Leónidas Trujillo in the Dominican Republic.
As a Dominicana born and bred in Manhattan’s Washington Heights — which has a very large Dominican population — I was fortunate enough to grow up with culture all around me. Sin importar la temporada, you are guaranteed to hear the music, smell the delicious sazón at the crack of dawn and get a feel of the everyday Dominican life as you walk by the bodega listening to the old-timers tell their story of the barrio.
I remember being inundated with stories of growing up in a country where your choices weren’t your own and opinions didn’t matter. Living in a time where trusting and confiding your opinions to your vecinos could cost you your freedom. What made a situation worse was that not abiding by Trujillo’s rule could cost you your life and that of your family.
Through these stories I found out who my mother really is. I found out she grew up having to know ‘her place’ as the morenita living in a country where her skin color was seen as something not to be proud of. Learning about my cultura, raíces y costumbres through her words and eyes is what helped me better understand the woman she became all those years later.
Despite all the hardships she faced over the years, it never deterred her from becoming a strong, inspiring, hardworking, determined, dedicated mujer y mamá.
Finding out about los Padres de la Patria (Duarte, Sanchez y Mella), the secret society La Trinitaria, the courageous hermanas Mirabal and listening to el himno nacional was my mother’s way of sharing who she is and her orgullo for her patria querida with me.
Mi cultura y raices is what defines me as a mujer y mamá today. Thanks to his abuela, my son will be exposed to a part of who he is. A part of him that represents centuries of historia, tradiciones, hardships, triumphs y belleza that will help him define who his culturally. Speaking the language, dancing to Fernandito Villalona’s merengue classics and enjoying tostones and yucca are just some of the things that will get him closer to our Quisqueya la bella.